The Great Villain Blogathon: Johnny Prince in Scarlet Street (1945)
Johnny Prince in Scarlet Street (1945) is not a nice guy. At best, he’s a self-centered clod who’s not exactly in the running for “Boyfriend of the Year.”
At worst, he’s a dyed-in-the-wool villain.
Scarlet Street tells the story of a noirish triangle involving mild-mannered budding artist and cuckolded husband Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson), the attractive but morally bereft dame, Kitty March (Joan Bennett), who catches his eye, and Johnny Prince, the object of Kitty’s devotion (and the reason why we are able to possess a clear understanding of the phrase “There’s no accounting for taste”). When Kitty mistakenly believes that Chris is a famous and wealthy artist, Johnny doesn’t waste a minute in trying to capitalize on what he sees as a first-class ticket to Easy Street – even if it involves pimping out his girlfriend: “This bird is goofy about ya,” he tells Kitty. “Date him up! You don’t have to tap the old chump for much – not at first.”
Encouraging his girlfriend to use her feminine wiles for his financial benefit is just one manifestation of Johnny Prince’s special brand of villainy. But wait! There’s more!
- When we first meet Johnny, he’s on a deserted street corner, smacking Kitty around, and even delivering a few kicks for good measure. Later, he blithely offers a rationale for his ire: “I had a chance to clean up in a crap game. All I needed was fifty bucks. And what did you show up with? Fifteen, for cat’s sake.”
- Johnny has no qualms about reading Kitty’s personal mail – in fact, he unashamedly comments on a letter he finds from Chris to Kitty: “Sounds like a schoolboy tryin’ to make a date.”
- Maybe we’re not positive what kind of hold Johnny has on Kitty, but he sure is. When Kitty balks at Johnny’s plan, he uses some very effective psychology, jumping up from the sofa in disgust, donning his hat and jacket, and heading for the door, on his way to a place “where [he] won’t be wasting his time.” As he intended, Kitty immediately chases after him and acquiesces to his proposition, even as she grudgingly observes that she doesn’t know why she’s so crazy about him. “Oh, yes, you do,” Johnny replies.
- After a night of debauchery with Kitty (illustrated most pointedly by the clothes strewn about the apartment), Johnny awakens from his drunken slumber, sits on the floor, and empties the contents of Kitty’s purse, pocketing all the money he finds. He even unearths a secret hiding place she has in her compact, and also takes the cash concealed there: “Say, is this all you’ve got?” he asks. And when Kitty protests, Johnny rejoins, “You know where to get more, don’t you, Lazylegs?”
- Speaking of psychology, Johnny uses it again when he wants Kitty to up the ante; it’s not enough that Chris is paying for a swanky apartment for Kitty to live in – now Johnny wants her to wrangle a cool thousand dollars from Chris: “Listen, baby, you’ve got him right where you want him. He’s on the hook and can’t get off,” Johnny says, assuring Kitty that “it’s only blackmail when you’re dumb enough to get caught.
- In addition to his actions in his opening scene, Johnny demonstrates repeatedly that he doesn’t shrink from heaping physical and verbal abuse on Kitty. In a lounge near Kitty’s home, the couple is having a discussion about Chris’s artwork when Kitty calls Johnny “crazy.” He raises his hand to strike her, stopping himself with the incongruous reflection: “If I weren’t a gentleman…” He doesn’t show such restraint later, though, when he not only manipulates Kitty into taking credit for Chris’s artwork, but encourages her to get – shall we say, friendly? – with the famed art dealer who has taken an interest in the paintings. When Kitty hesitates, telling Johnny that she’d walk out on him if she “had any sense,” Johnny delivers two quick slaps to her face and informs her, “You haven’t got any sense.” And during what turns out to be their final encounter, Johnny berates Kitty after they learn that Chris has seen them: “What use are my brains if I’m tied up with a dumb cluck like you?” He smacks her. “That’s the only thing you even understand. I’m through with you.”
Just in case you haven’t seen the film, I’ll refrain from revealing the circumstances, but suffice it to say that it’s a humdinger. In fact, you almost feel sorry for him.
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This post is part of The Great Villain Blogathon, hosted by Ruth at Silver Screenings, Kristina at Speakeasy, and yours truly. Click on Barbara Stanwyck in the picture above to check out the many great posts of villainy being presented as part of this event! Or else!